Chapter 13: All Bets Are Off [Slapshot!]

Chapter 13: All Bets Are Off [Slapshot!]

Mason peered out over the ice, then shuffled along the walk, seeking a better vantage point. His coffee was burning his hand, even through the sleeve. He paused again, watching the motions of the players on the ice, the numberless, nameless sweaters.

He switched his coffee to his left hand and jammed his right into his pocket, sipping on the hot liquid as he watched practice. Luke was back on the ice, having served his two-game penalty. He’d be back in the line-up tonight for Game 4 at the Telefira Center.

He’d put up a huge fuss, but Mason had come with him anyway. Mason had no intention of letting Luke out of his sight, out of his scent range, not after what had happened the other night.

He took another sip of his coffee. He hated that he couldn’t trust Luke. He hated that he was so petty, so jealous.

After all, if he was so possessive, so jealous, then he should just man up and bite Luke. Not that Luke wanted it, not that Luke had any interest in being mated …

And he was right that Mason had had his chance. He could have made Luke keep that bond, forced them to fumble their way through being mated before either of them turned twenty. But that scarcely seemed fair to either of them, and that was why he’d released them both from it.

He’d been scared shitless, if he was honest with himself; he’d panicked, and that was why he’d forced Luke to break the bond, but he liked to tell himself that he’d been very mature about the whole thing, had realized neither of them were ready for that kind of commitment.

Mason still wasn’t ready, he didn’t think. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be. He did know that Luke had an unprecedented effect on him, dredged up all the alpha instinct Mason thought he held in check, until he felt almost feral. He wanted to nail Luke to the wall, wanted to fight any other alpha who’d even dare to get close. He’d mount Luke in public, if that kind of thing was acceptable, just to show his dominance. Luke was his.

Or, well, he wanted Luke to be his, in the worst, most primal kind of way. He seriously felt like a caveman sometimes, ready to club the idiot omega over the head and drag him off into some bushes.

Mason didn’t necessarily like those instincts, but he couldn’t really deny them either. He was a pretty chill alpha by most standards. There were some guys who were arrogant, who expected people to fall to their knees and worship them. Alphas got a bad rap for being overbearing, bossy. The same qualities that made them good leaders also tended to make them tyrants.

Mason was confident, maybe a little arrogant sometimes. He liked to be in charge, but usually, he was content to sit back and let someone else do the work. He put his efforts into making people like him. He was outgoing, friendly—charming, charismatic. People wanted to do things for him because he made them want to.

He liked control in the bedroom, but he’d definitely been put on his knees, forced into submission. And that had been fine with him—he liked new things, he liked to explore. He’d enjoyed those sessions just as much as he’d enjoyed tying a partner up, spanking them. And he could deal with vanilla sex just as easily—it didn’t need to be all whips and chains. He didn’t need to be in control, on top.

Until it came to Luke. Then he needed to be dominant, he needed to be on top constantly.

He hated the thought that Luke was running around on him. The idea that someone else was sleeping with Luke, that Luke was spreading his legs for someone else, that Luke was cheating ate at him, gnawing away his calm, his cool. He practically saw red when he thought about it. He didn’t know what he’d do if Luke came back smelling like another alpha again, if he ever caught hold of that alpha or—

“Well! This is a surprise.”

He paused with his cup to his lips, letting his eyes dart to his left.

Sean rocked on his heels, tenting his pockets with his hands. Mason took a long, loud sip of his coffee, narrowing his gaze.

Sean sat down at a small table—Mason hadn’t noticed that before—crossing his right ankle over his left knee. He leaned back, smirking at Mason. “Fancy seeing you here,” he said. “What brings you out today, Mr. Green? You’re a long way from LA.”

Mason turned about, leaning back against the railing. “Season’s over, so I figured I’d visit.”

“Must be nice to see a winning team for a change.”

Mason sipped his coffee again, pressed his lips together. He fixed Sean with a sharp look, questioning.

The older man folded his hands. His knuckles cracked. Mason tried not to think about what those hands had done to Luke—he’d seen bruises this morning, which had pissed him off.

Sean’s smirk widened. “So, what’s more frustrating—being on such a shitty team or knowing your omega can’t keep his legs shut?”

Mason quashed his cup in his hand, the remnants of his coffee spilling over his knuckles. It had gone cold.

“I dunno,” he said at last. “Why don’t you tell me? Seems to me you might be unluckier—after all, you were on a shitty team for years and now you have to invade other people’s beds to even hope to get your rocks off.”

“Pretty sure Luke came to me of his own accord, Greenie.”

“Oh, what, after you drugged him like you usually do? What’d you do, buy him a drink, slip him some roofies?”

“At least I have the sense to nail a good piece of ass when it presents itself. Unlike some people in this room.”

Mason chuckled darkly. “Dude,” he sneered, “I did tap that. And then I fucked the model too, is that what this is about?”

“Oh, so you and Macks aren’t in a committed, monogamous relationship? Well! That changes everything.”

The older man got to his feet, his dress shoes clacking on the tiles. “We don’t even need to have this conversation in that case,” he said, evincing a pained smile. “If you’re allowed to run around, I don’t see why Luke needs to be chaste.”

Mason opened his mouth to retort, but Sean turned his back, waving a hand. “Sorry, Greenie, I have a meeting—a conversation that actually needs to be had. Call me when you collar him—until then, he’s fair game.”

He walked off, the door closing behind him again. Mason could still hear his shoes clicking, even over the sound of practice below.

He hated that Flanagan was right.

*

“Good to have you back, Macks.” Mike put a gloved hand on his helmet, bumped their visors together, grinning at him. Luke couldn’t help but grin back.

Mike patted his helmet. “Got a good feeling about tonight,” he said.

“It’s good to be back,” Luke said, hoping that the defenseman didn’t pick up on the wince in his words. His legs were on fire, and he was wondering how he was supposed to make it through the rest of the day, never mind the game.

Ice and rest when he got home, that was about all he could think. He changed out of his gear gingerly, then hobbled out to the parking lot. Mason was leaned up against the SUV door, his collar turned up and a hat pulled low.

“You look like a stalker,” Luke said, tossing his gear into the vehicle.

“And you look like a fairy, what’s your point?”

Luke considered that, then shook his head. He tossed the keys to the other man. “Drive,” he said, “my legs are killing me.”

Mason gave him a funny look.

“What?” he asked, sliding into the passenger seat.

“Nothing,” Mason murmured, then got into the car. “Just …”

“From practice,” Luke clarified. “Seriously.”

Mason sighed. “I know, I just …” He chewed at his lip, then said, “I saw Flanny.”

“And you didn’t get into a brawl. Very mature.”

“Oh, screw you,” Mason spat, shoving the car into gear. Luke played with his phone, glowering at the message he had from Sean.

They rolled up to a red light, Mason heaving a sigh. “Y’know …”

Luke glanced up. Mason was staring straight ahead, his eyes wide, glassy, shockingly blue.

“I don’t like it,” he said, licking his lips, drumming his hands on the wheel. Luke knew those signs; he was struggling with something, agitated about whatever he was thinking.

“You don’t have to like it,” the dark-haired omega replied.

“That bugs me,” Mason admitted. His gaze flitted to Luke. He hit the gas as the light changed. “But you’re right. I don’t have to like it. I guess. I guess … you can do what you want.”

Luke rolled his eyes. “If I can do what I want, I don’t need your goddamn permission, jackass.”

“I’m not!” Mason snapped, startling. “I just—I’m conceding defeat, okay, can you accept that?”

“Sure sounds like you’re trying to give me permission,” Luke said, dipping his head down. “Anyway, not something you need to worry about right now—playoffs.”

“Huh?”

Luke pocketed his phone. “Not gonna be sleeping with anyone for a bit. I broke that rule—not gonna do it again, gotta keep my head in the game.”

Mason stared at the wall of the parking garage for a moment. “Are you serious,” he huffed, then put the car in park and pulled the e-brake.

“Uh-huh.”

He got out of the car, pulled his gear out of the back. Mason was trailing him. “You have got to be kidding,” the alpha huffed, “you’re seriously going to buy into that superstitious mumbo-jumbo, gonna be a goddamn monk for … however long the playoffs go on?”

“Yuuup,” Luke drawled, punching the code into the door, waiting for it to unlock.

“Ugh,” Mason sneered.

“Oh, stuff it. You’d do it too, you’re just complaining ‘cuz it means you won’t get laid—oh, but wait, what happened to Linnea? Gee, Jarhead, you could probably call up like half of DC, you don’t need me.”

“You are seriously not going to let that go, are you?”

Luke whirled about. “You brought some random fucking chick back to my house and banged her, while I was in the next room. That’s some serious fucking bullshit.”

He punched the button for the elevator. “And you know what else is serious bullshit? That you got pissed off that I went and banged someone else while you were busy between some whore’s legs.”

“Hey now—”

He stabbed a finger to Mason’s chest, just above his heart. “Fair’s fair,” he snarled. “We’re not mates—you made that pretty fucking clear—so I don’t know where you get off treating me like one.”

They stared at each other for a moment, eyes boring into each other. The elevator doors slid open. Luke stepped inside the car. Mason followed silently. They said not another word until they were back in the condo, the door shutting behind them, the keys rattling on the ring.

“Fine,” Mason huffed, kicking his shoes into the wall. “Have it your way.”

Luke dropped his duffle. He turned to the alpha, ready to bawl him out.

“We’ll play your stupid little monk game,” Mason said. “For the rest of the playoffs. Nobody for you—nobody for me.”

Luke gawped at him.

He shrugged. “Fair’s fair, right?”

Luke rolled his eyes. “Mason, it doesn’t matter—you’re not in the playoffs, I’m not doing this because—”

“Nope,” the alpha huffed, holding up a hand, “I’ve made up my mind. I can play this game too—I’ll prove it to you.”

Luke shook his head. “Fine,” he said, “whatever. Whatever you want, Jarhead.”

Mason tossed a couple of crumpled bills onto the hall table. “Whoever breaks first has to pay up,” he said, grinning.

Luke stared at the money for a moment, then looked away. He felt like bashing his head against a wall. “I’m not sure what’s more surprising,” he said at last, “that you want to turn this into a bet or that you happened to somehow have laid your hands on a couple of five hundred-dollar bills.”

*

 

The house was dark, silent when Danny crept in. He winced as the door closed, the sharp sound echoing through the house, disrupting the quiet. He paused, waiting.

Nothing happened.

With an inaudible sigh, he relaxed, his shoulders falling. He toed off his shoes, then headed into the kitchen. He flicked on the lights.

The clock rolled over to 11:12, bright and blue, and Danny stifled a yawn. It had been a long, grinding game. They’d gone to overtime, but they’d managed to pull it off. They’d scored the first goal of OT, and they were still in the game. The series was tied now, two-two, as they headed back to Pittsburgh for Game 5.

Danny smeared jam over the still-frozen bread he’d plucked from the freezer. On the other slice, he lathered on peanut butter, before squashing them together. Carbs, sugar, protein. It wasn’t great, sure, but PB&J sure hit the spot after a long game.

He paused, sandwich halfway to his mouth, when the stairs creaked. He waited, then heard the door to the upstairs washroom close. Matt was up, apparently, but still upstairs.

Danny went back to his sandwich.

He was licking a stray dollop of jam from his fingertip when Matt made his way into the kitchen. “Hey,” he said, hopping up onto one of the stools, leaning forward onto the bar, reaching for the other half of Danny’s sandwich.

“Hey,” Danny replied, watching him as he plucked up the sandwich.

Matt glanced up at him, then grinned. “You could make another one,” he said, “if you really wanted it.”

“Hmm,” Danny replied, evaluating the alpha. Then he said, “Would you eat the other half if I made another one?”

“Mm,” Matt said around a mouthful, “maybe.”

Danny pulled the bread back out of the freezer. “Did you eat dinner?” he asked, sliding the freezer shut with his foot.

“No,” Matt admitted, dropping the crust back onto the plate. “I pretty much went right to bed after you left. I’m pretty tired, so I figured I’d see if I could take a nap while you were out.”

Danny hacked the sandwich in two, then handed one half to Matt. “Did you sleep okay?”

“Pretty good, yeah. Still tired though.” Matt sighed, slumping forward. “Could probably sleep for days and still be tired.”

Danny hopped up on the stool beside him. “You didn’t watch the game then?” he asked.

“I had it on in the background,” Matt murmured, “but I was out. Saw maybe five minutes.”

Danny nodded.

Matt finished his portion of the sandwich and dusted his hands off. Crumbs flew everywhere. Danny resisted the urge to tell him off—he hated when Matt did stuff like that. “How’d it go?” the alpha asked, turning to face him, leaning on the counter.

Danny shook his head. “Went to OT,” he said.

“Oh,” Matt replied, his brows knitting in concern.

“We won it,” Danny said quickly, catching his gaze. “Just … it was a long game. Lot of grinding.”

“I’ll bet,” Mat said, then paused. “I guess that means we’re going back to Pittsburgh?”

Yeah,” the omega sighed, “I’m going back to Pittsburgh. That was always the case though, win or lose.”

Matt was silent for a moment, then said, “I wish I could go.”

Danny didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing at all. Instead, he looked at Matt, studying him, memorizing him. He bit his lip, then directed his gaze down, scanning the counter instead.

Matt hadn’t looked well for months—pale and hollow, like a ghost already. Danny wished he’d said something sooner. Wished he’d made Matt go to the doctor sooner. Wished he’d said something about those bruises, those long-lingering marks that didn’t fade, just kept piling on and piling on, marring Matt’s complexion.

“I bet you’re tired,” Matt said after a moment, a tight smile pulling across his lips as he turned to meet Danny’s gaze.

“Yeah,” he agreed, almost breathlessly, “it was a long game.”

It wasn’t untrue, really—he was tired. The game had been long. But Matt was making an excuse to go back to bed. Not because Danny was tired, not because Matt was concerned—because Matt was tired. Still tired, even after napping all afternoon and evening …

“You’ve had enough to eat?” Danny asked cautiously, and Matt gave him the barest nod of his head as he rose.

They headed upstairs, both of them silent again. Danny wanted to say something, anything, but he didn’t know what to say. Silence was strange; things hadn’t been silent in his head for years now, not since he and Matt had bonded. There were quiet times, sure, times when they were both subdued, but silence was almost nonexistent when someone else lived in your head as much as you did.

It meant Matt was walling him out. Whatever Matt was thinking, whatever Matt was feeling, he didn’t want to share it with Danny. And that was worrisome. They were mates. They shared everything.

They crawled into bed, the sheets rustling, the mattress bouncing a couple of times as they settled in, rolling around to get comfortable. Danny tended to sleep flat on his back, while Matt preferred assuming the fetal position, very often curling right up against Danny, which he did now.

“You gonna be okay on your own?” Danny asked, glancing down at the alpha tucked against his side.

“I … dunno.”

Danny stared at the ceiling. “I mean, like, will you get up? Will you eat? What if you have an appointment, what if treatment starts, and—”

“I’m an adult,” Matt murmured, sliding his hand over Danny’s chest, over and over again. “I can take care of myself.”

Danny wanted to protest. After all, Matt had slept through dinner, hadn’t eaten anything until Danny had returned home and made him something. Would he be okay if Danny left?

“It’s just for a night,” Matt mumbled. He laid his head on Danny’s bicep.

“Yeah,” the omega sighed. “Just one night.”

Matt’s breathing evened out as he dropped off to sleep, leaving Danny to stare into the deepening darkness of the night, shadows and doubts flickering through his mind, even darker than the hour on the clock.

He wished Matt could go, wished the alpha could be there so that he didn’t need to worry about him. Wished he could take the time off and just … be with Matt.

*

A rapid-fire knocking at the door startled Sy out of his half-dream state and nearly straight off the couch. He smashed his foot off the arm of the sofa, gritting his teeth as pain reverberated through his bones. He sat up slowly, blinking a few times, glancing around the room.

His blanket and the remote had tumbled to the floor. The TV was still on, blaring ESPN, but now it was tennis or something.

The doorbell sounded loudly, followed by more knocking. He looked at the clock again, then fished up the remote and turned the TV off. Wielding his crutches, he hobbled into the foyer.
Who in the hell was at his door at this hour, and so emphatically too?

He opened the door, and his heart leapt into his throat, choking him. He couldn’t even say her name.

Katya Miranova glared at him, her brown eyes narrowed and angry. “Symon,” she huffed in that lilting accent of hers, “why did you not tell me you are injured?”

“Uhhh,” he replied, then hopped backward, crutches clicking as she forced her way into his house. “Um, hold up a minute here—”

“I have to find this out from Dima!” she huffed, dropping her purse to the floor with a thud. Sy grimaced. What did she have in there?

She shut the door. “He says you break foot,” she continued, “and you do not call!”

“Sorry?” he offered. “I didn’t realize I needed to keep you up to date on the latest happenings in my life—”

She sighed heavily, a huge and dramatic production—just like everything was with Katya.

“Symon, I help you!” she said, exasperation filling in all the cracks in her grammar. “This is what girlfriend is for—”

“No!” Sy cried, holding up his hands. “No, nope, nooope, no. Katya, how many times have we been over this—you are not my girlfriend.”

He stumped over to the door and yanked it open again. “Please go,” he said.

She pursed her lips, considering him for a moment. “Symon,” she said.

“No,” he snapped. “I told you, we can be friends. Not girlfriend. Not boyfriend. I don’t need any help right now, but thanks for the offer. I really just want to be alone right now, so.” He gestured to the door.

She sighed again, this time hesitant and strained, as though he was trying her very last nerve, a breakdown mere seconds away. “Fine,” she spat, her face twisting with a snarl. “I will go—for now. But I will come back tomorrow.”

“Please don’t,” Sy muttered as she grabbed her purse and stormed out the door.

“You cannot avoid me always!” she hollered back at him.

“Goodbye, Katya!” he called, then slammed the door shut. He turned to go to the living room, then paused. He darted back to the door and locked it.

Just in case.

He swung by the living room, grabbing up his phone from the coffee table, firing a text off to Dima as he made his way to the kitchen.

‘ur gd cray sister was here,’ he wrote.

‘she is not crazy,’ Dima wrote back a moment later. Sy shook his head, put the phone aside. Of course Dima would say that—Katya was his sister, after all. And he wasn’t the one basically being stalked by her.

When Sy had first met Katya, he had no idea she was Dima’s sister; he’d just known she was some crazy Russian chick who somehow always seemed to know exactly where he was going to be. It was unnerving; at least now he had an idea of how she got her information, and it wasn’t through some sort of microchip tracking technology and GPS satellites. She just extracted (or maybe extorted) information from her brother about places Sy frequented and then hoped that the green-eyed center showed up there. Sometimes she was right; Sy knew now that she was also wrong a lot of the time. Dima had texted him some shots of Katya waiting at a coffee shop or wherever else. Dima thought it was hilarious.

Sy was less than amused. Mostly because he’d told Katya again and again that he had absolutely zero interest in going out with her. They could be friends—maybe—but she persisted, essentially stalking him, bullying him into dates, introducing him as her boyfriend when they were in public.

Katya was … well, Sy couldn’t even say she was nice, mostly because she pissed him off. He wanted to think that, deep down, she was a nice person. Just bullish and used to getting what she wanted, and unsure of how to respond to something—someone—that wasn’t going to bend to her whims. She certainly cared deeply about the people she liked; he’d seen her essentially mothering Dima, much to his chagrin. And her showing up at Sy’s house, being angry about not knowing about his injury, being concerned and wanting to help him—

She meant well. She cared about people, that much was obvious to him. He just wished she cared about him a little less.

She was two years younger than Dima, although it was difficult to tell. It was very obvious they were related; they might have been twins. Both of them were tall, porcelain-skinned and dark-haired, with deep brown eyes. Dima was broad-shouldered and masculine, of course, while Katya was slimmer, more daintily proportioned. It was little wonder that she’d become a model.

Of course, it certainly helped that their parents had ties to the Russian elite—their mother was the daughter of some oil magnate, as far as Sy could tell, and their father was a former Olympic medalist. Mama Mironova would have bought her children anything—including their careers.

Dima had done some modeling too, a fact that most of the guys mocked him for. Dima didn’t seem to care, and most everyone shut up when they realized he got to hang out with the female models—girls like Katya and her friends. Much as they mocked Dima, they were also a bit jealous—and they often tried to weasel their way into parties or other events with the Russian, to see who they might meet, who they might rub elbows with.

Sy couldn’t care less, which was one of the reasons Dima had taken such a shine to him. Sy had thought it was because he was the captain and Dima was just a rookie, or maybe because he didn’t mind Dima’s faltering English, but no. Dima just liked that Sy didn’t bother asking him about parties or models or whatnot. It was refreshing, almost novel, from what Sy could gather.

Sy knew he was gay. He’d known that since he was sixteen, so Katya and other girls just didn’t interest him. He didn’t dislike women, but he had no sexual interest in them. Mike couldn’t believe it still; almost every time they were together, he’d point out some girl’s butt or boobs. Sy would just shrug and go back to his drink.

He wasn’t really interested in Dima or his teammates or Dima’s male model friends or anyone else, either. He was gay, but that didn’t mean he wanted to nail every dude on the planet. No, it was quite the opposite, really; there was only one guy on the face of the earth for Sy.

And unfortunately for him, that was Aleksandr Volkov.

Of course, Volkov was completely oblivious to that fact—willfully or otherwise, Sy wasn’t quite sure. It was frustrating, because Sy knew for a fact that they were soulbonded.

Aleks refused to believe it, but they were soulbonded. They had been for ages, pretty much since Sy had had the misfortune of being at a World Juniors game when he was just twelve years old and Aleks was fifteen, playing for Russia in the game, his first year. He’d been such an electric player, and Sy had been so excited to see him play, vividly remembered pressing his nose to the glass and watching wide-eyed.

And he remembered reaching his hand out to bump fists with the Russian player as he passed by after the horn sounded to end the first period. Volkov had scored an electrifying goal, highlight-reel stuff: a tape-to-tape pass from Fyodor Nobokov, a forehand-backhand switch with a flick of the wrist, and the shot was rifled off the end of his stick, up high over the goalie’s shoulder, rippling the twine behind him. The building had gone wild; sure, they were on Canadian soil, the majority of the audience was Canadian, but Volkov was something of a force—anyone who knew anything about hockey had heard of him, rumors of a Russian sniper who was just fifteen, who was going to be the most coveted player to come out of Moscow in ages.

And Sy had been standing right there and, with childish wonderment, he had wanted to touch those hands, the hands that had scored that amazing goal, because here was a guy who understood him, understood his sport, the finesse, the skill, the talent. Here was a guy who could be his idol, if only for a few short years. He could watch Volkov’s every move, study all his stats, stay up late to watch all his games, even the ones broadcasting from the other side of the world.

Then fate had given him another reason to be seemingly obsessed with Aleksandr Volkov. Sy reached out his hand and Volkov lifted his hands, high-fiving the fans who reached out to him, congratulated him on that goal, were in awe of him. He was only fifteen and already a superstar.
Even through Volkov’s glove, there was something of an electric jolt that sparked through Sy when they touched, even just that simple hand slap with a thick mitt separating their skin.

Volkov felt it too, Sy knew he had, because his gaze had shifted suddenly, wildly, and their eyes had met for a split-second.

Then Volkov’s touch was gone, and he disappeared down the tunnel, leaving Sy to clutch at his hand, wringing his wrist in confusion. He’d only been twelve; he’d had no idea what had happened. He remembered his dad’s hand on his shoulder, guiding him back to his seat. He barely remembered the rest of the match, just a sudden searing pain when Volkov blocked a shot and had to be helped off the ice, limping, his ankle likely busted.

Sy’s ankle had been weak for about a month after that, and coach had yelled at him for not skating right, but there was something wrong with his foot. But there was nothing wrong; X-rays showed nothing, and even the physiotherapist didn’t think there was anything wrong.

Sy had been sixteen before he’d figured it out. He’d suffered a few other phantom injuries—always connected to Aleks’s own he knew now—but the guys been talking breathlessly in the locker rooms about girls they knew and one of them had said something about soulbonds and everything had unraveled from there.

They were supposed to be something of a myth. Yes, soulbonds happened, but not spontaneously. They didn’t work like that. Usually, bonds were created by two consenting adults, who were in a relationship and had made the conscious decision to become bonded. It usually involved one partner dominating and biting the other—the so-called mating ritual—but that wasn’t romantic, not like the fairy tales people told about soulbonds. Soulbonds, the legends went, happened spontaneously; even just a fraction in time could be enough for two fated partners to connect. All it took was a meeting of gazes, a brush of hands on the subway, and the fated individuals would be entwined for life.

And Sy had glanced nervously at all of his teammates, dropping out of the conversation as they yammered on excitedly about how they wondered if these two girls they knew, Arissa and Diedre, were soulbonded, because they were pretty sure the two of them were psychic, could read each other’s thoughts and in those days, that was enough to convince them someone was soulbonded. And then the conversation shifted to lesbian sex, and how hot that would be, and would Arissa and Diedre let them watch if, y’know, they were like that, if they did that kind of thing?

Sy had sat there for a long time, staring at the floor. The raucous conversation had gone on for a while, then slowly died away, and then Sy was sitting almost alone in the locker room, thinking about how he was soulbonded to Aleksandr Volkov and had been since he was twelve years old.

It was an insane thought, stupid. Soulbonds weren’t real. So when he went to Juniors that year, he decided to put the theory to the test. Volkov was playing in the REHL; he’d been drafted, but the IHA was locked out that year, so Volkov had stayed in his native land and played for a team there.

Sy got into a fight. He almost never got into fights, but he picked a fight with one of the Slovakian players in the middle of their first-round match. Later, one of the Slovaks smashed him into the boards, fracturing a couple of Sy’s ribs and taking him out of the game. The guy was suspended, and Sy’s season was ended. He hadn’t intended it to be quite that violent or season-ending, but he had intended to sustain an injury, because when he tuned into the Russian hockey news after, there were reports that Volkov was out, with some mysterious injury that no one wanted to talk about. Or that no one could talk about, because they didn’t know what it was.

So Sy had known since then that they were soulbonded—but if he could convince Aleks that they were soulbonded, it would have been a miracle. The older man steadfastly refused to believe in such things, said soulbonds were fairy tales and childish nonsense, and he refused to believe that he and Sy were involved in at least some sort of magnetic attraction that kept drawing them back together.

And Sy had been trying to make him believe that forever, but Aleks would have none of it—and so Sy was doomed to keep trying to convince him there was a reason they couldn’t seem to let each other go.

At this point, he was almost certain it would be a cold day in hell when Aleks believed him.


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